As a musician, when I first learned about the popularity of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band I was a little suspicious. I was curious, of course, but skeptical enough that I hadn't gone out of my way to give this new craze a shot. But the day of reckoning came, and I must say that I was shocked by how much I really love Rock Band.

I'll leave the philosophical discussions for another time, but the bottom line is that whether someone plays an instrument already or not, Rock Band is genuinely fun. Guitar Hero is nice too, but the ability to play with three friends, the inclusion of drums (my instrument of choice), and vocals really puts this one head and shoulders above anything else out there.

For the skeptics: believe me I never thought I would say this; Rock Band is worth the money. It's got replay value all over the place from increasing difficulty to trying other instruments to downloading new tracks to play. It's got solo and multiplayer capabilities that make it one of the best single player, online multiplayer and party games out there. Yes, the cost of the kit is high, but the potential value delivered is amazing.

I had heard that musicians love Rock Band, but I couldn't imagine why until I played it. It brings a whole new aspect to familiar songs, and it actually does help people learn and enhance key traits like limb independence and timing. Because you can't stop playing, it also hits on one of the major aspects of music from a performance perspective – no matter how much you screw up you have got to keep playing. I know quite a few musicians who are inclined to drop out or want to start over if they screw up, and this will kill a show faster than actually playing Freebird.

As a drummer, knowing how to play a song is both a good and a bad thing. It's difficult because if the arrangement you've learned and played for years is different than the original, you could have a tough time adjusting. It is just as hard not playing something you hear as it is playing something you haven't included in your personal arrangement. At the same time, knowing that something like STP's Vaseline is essentially based around a paradiddle between the kick and snare really helps beat the learning curve.

But, my experience aside, there are millions of copies of Rock Band out there. We whole heartedly recommend that anyone who enjoys music and video games take the plunge on this one. The game is big, and its content is expanding every week. New songs are added every Tuesday, and we will be starting a weekly series exploring these new additions. Along the way we will also try to dive deeper into the experience that is Rock Band, but in the meantime, this is the place to come in order to find out if the new songs released each week are worth downloading.

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  • Axbattler - Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - link

    Need for speed is not going to make you a better driver, Tekken won't make you a better martial artist, the various first person shooters will not make you a more efficient marine/commando (though people against violence in video games may differ). In fact, the aforementioned may well teach 'bad habits'.

    The time spent any of those games are probably put in the same category as watching TV, or most hobbies: unproductive, possibly wasteful, yet entertaining use of time. Now I would understand why you'd think that it's a waste of time if you've given the game a shot with an open mind and didn't enjoy it. I can say the same for Karate Bikini Babes (most atrocious control I've encountered this millennium). But from the sound of it, you formulated your opinion with much prejudice (when if you think about it, how is pressing a mouse button the same thing as firing a gun?), without even trying it.

    What I can say though, is that in the time of one afternoon, I can get a group of people visiting my place to have a blast at GH (Rock Band isn't here yet). Can't do the same with instruments. Yup, rhythm games are just games, and like every genre there will be people who enjoy them and those who don't. But it seems a bit silly to judge a game on it's appearance. I know more then a few who were skeptical about the DS and the Wii (controller) who are rather fervent converts.
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - link

    I think you completely missed my point. ALL games are a 'waste of time', but they do entertain. No one in their right frame of mind is going to go Rob a bank in GTA SA or some similar game, and then repeat that in real life. The same applies for any driving game, or whatever else.

    The point I was trying to make is that if done properly, something similar can be done on a console, or PC that will actually benefit people wanting to learn how to play a guitar, or other instrument.

    As for learning rhythm . . . you can do that any number of ways, none of which require the person to purchase $300 worth of garbage that will also teach you very bad instrumental habits. Besides that, you try duplicating pick harmonics in guitar hero . . . Finger tapping ? Fret slides ? The list goes on, and on.
  • Axbattler - Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - link

    I think you've missed the point that not everyone are interested picking up an instrument or start a band and play in a gig. Maybe you were looking for a guitar and/or drum simulator that will 'train' your guitar skills. Well, I wouldn't mind if someone come up with something like that. But that would be a learning application, with fun factor being secondary to learning factor.

    A game can be as realistic/unrealistic as the developers want to be, and should only be judged by its fun factor. It seems pretty clear that GH and RB have gained fans amongst gamers and musicians alike.
    Chances are, the so called garbage is entertaining enough for many that they would most likely spend more time at it having fun, than any rhythm exercise you care to propose. Incidentally, learning rhythm is most likely just an indirect benefit - just like a light gun may improve hand-eye coordination (yet do nothing to improve one's ability to shoot a real gun). People pay the price of administration for the many afternoon of fun to be had with a group of friend - anything else is a bonus.

    To be honest, I don't buy your bad instrument habits argument either. There are so many differences between a real guitar than the one used in those games (you've listed a few) that I would be rather surprised that someone would try their GH moves on a real guitar even by accident. I've known two who started GH before deciding to learn a real guitar and I can't subjectively say that GH has impaired their ability to play the real instrument. And the point is moot if the people never intended to pick up a real instrument in the first place.
  • twofiveone - Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - link

    These analogies are probably some of the more apt ones I've seen. I've tried Guitar Hero and Rock Band, mostly to humor friends.

    From the perspective of a professional musician, I find the GH and Rock Band games somewhat entertaining in a 'let's appeal to the lowest common denominator' kind of way.

    Although fun (sort of), these games are both fine examples of technology watering down people's perceptions of the kind of commitment it takes to be a competent, let alone professional musician, even in a rock band. GH and Rock Band provide yet another reason for people to find an excuse not to practice their instruments, because they are unable to get the immediate gratification via positive results they can in a video game.

  • crimson117 - Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - link

    I've never played rock band, but I know that the one thing you can learn in guitar hero is rhythm. The actual control buttons are very limited to video game skill (they don't help you make chords or strum a real guitar), but learning to keep up with the rhythm of a song is a valuable skill that guitar hero can teach you, a skill that many musicians take for granted.
  • Cr0nJ0b - Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - link

    I want this for Wii
  • Houdani - Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - link

    Ditto, that. Oui Wii.

    With Rock Band, are all the instruments tied to the same difficulty level or can you mix the levels for each instrument to account for individual player skills?
  • slashbinslashbash - Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - link

    Every player can pick their difficulty independently of the others.

    I played Rock Band for the first time last night at a Super Bowl party.

    Guitar is overall easier than Guitar Hero, so if you're a GH player you will play to your same level or maybe a level higher -- although the Rock Band guitar has a very different "feel" and the different button configuration will drag you down for a while. Since you can use GH controllers for RB, though, you don't have to climb that learning curve until you want to. I grew to like the RB guitar quite a bit, it just feels nicer to use. First-timers will definitely want to start with Easy.

    Vocals are overall quite easy. I had no problem doing Hard on any song I chose, and my recommended "beginner" level is Medium (and I'm far from being a good vocalist!). I can't imagine what Easy would be like on vocals.

    Drums, wow. Definitely start out on Easy. I made my way up to Medium on most songs that I played, and Hard on a couple that were particularly easy (Weezer especially -- here's hoping for some more Weezer songs!). It is really REALLY difficult, if you've never done it before, to coordinate your hands and your foot. Actually, the "coordination" part (pedal and drumstick in unison) isn't hard, it's deciding whether to pedal or hit the pad or both. I found myself pedaling a lot when I wasn't supposed to, and also hitting the left pad when I was supposed to pedal. Also, the pedal can really start to hurt your shin if you're not used to exercising that part of your leg. The recommended method for kickdrumming is to always keep the pedal depressed, and only to lift up your foot right before you need to press it back down again; this will really help with the shin soreness, but it is hard to learn that behavior and it's easy to revert to the painful "hold your foot up all the time" mode.

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